Sheltering the Homeless:
|The state currently makes 26 of the state's National Guard armories available as temporary homeless shelters during the winter months. The armories provided approximately 2,625 shelter beds nightly during the 1996-97 winter. However, the program has encountered a number of problems over its decade-long history. The program was intended as a temporary solution, but most local governments have not provided alternative shelter sites for the homeless. As a result, the use of the armories as homeless shelters has continued.|
|The armories have been used because they (1) are already equipped to
handle emergency shelter situations, (2) are available throughout the
state, and (3) lie unused most nights. The Military Department has
expressed various concerns about the program, such as conflict with
other duties, health and security issues, and soldier retention. Our
review indicates that none of these concerns appear to be serious, and
that steps have been taken to minimize the problems.
Significant barriers have prevented the local development of shelters:
(1) high capital costs, (2) difficulty in finding suitable locations, and
(3) coordination difficulties.
Our review suggests that the most appropriate role for the state in seeking alternatives to the use of the armories is to help facilitate the local development of new shelters. This could best be accomplished by addressing existing barriers, through the provision of capital assistance (grants, loans, or in-kind support) and technical assistance.
|History of Using Armories as Homeless Shelters|
|1987||Governor Deukmejian, by executive order, authorized the California National Guard to make the state's armories available for temporary emergency shelters. Sixteen armories were used as shelters.|
|1988||Military Department and Office of Emergency Services established policy to license local governments to operate the temporary shelters during inclement weather.|
|1990||Armory program modified to keep the shelters open regardless of weather conditions during the winter months. Military Department received an appropriation of $630,000 to fund the program.|
|1992||Governor Wilson expanded the armory program to a continuous 90-day winter program regardless of weather conditions. The program was extended through March of 1995.|
|1994||Chapter 1196, Statutes of 1994 (AB 1808, Areias), codified the program into law and extended its existence until March 15, 1997. Authorized 32 state armories to be available as shelters.|
|1997||Chapters 715 and 716, Statutes of 1997 (AB 242, Honda and SB 255, Lee), extended the program for 26 armories until March 15, 1999, with 1997-98 funding of $810,000 provided through the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program.|
During the most recent winter of 1996-97, 26 armories were used as homeless shelters, providing an average of 2,625 shelter beds nightly. Figure 3 lists the number of shelter beds provided by each armory during the winter of 1996-97. While the total number of winter shelter beds across the state from all sources is not known, the armory program has provided a substantial portion of many regions' shelter beds for the homeless. For instance, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority estimates that 45 percent of the county's winter shelter beds are provided by the armories.
|Armory Shelter Beds
|County||City||Average Nightly Number of Beds|
|Los Angeles||Culver City||162|
|Los Angeles||Long Beach||152|
|Los Angeles||West Los Angeles||170|
|San Mateo||San Mateo||81|
|Santa Barbara||Santa Barbara||177|
|Santa Barbara||Santa Maria||76|
|Santa Clara||San Jose||266|
|Santa Cruz||Santa Cruz||73|
In addition, counties using the armories must establish a local shelter advisory committee to address problems related to the use of the armories. The responsibilities of these committees are: (1) to address issues related to shelter operation, such as sanitation and security; (2) to ensure the shelter maintains a "good neighbor policy;" and (3) to assist in finding long-term solutions for providing housing for the homeless.
Chapter 716 also instructs the Legislative Analyst to "analyze and recommend to the Legislature alternative approaches for providing cold weather assistance to homeless persons that could replace the existing Temporary Emergency Shelter Program." This report fulfills this requirement of the law.
Chapter 715, Statutes of 1997 (AB 242, Honda), provides funding to counties to help pay for the use of the armories during the winter of 1997-98. Specifically, $1.06 million was appropriated to the Emergency Housing and Assistance Program (EHAP) Fund, administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Each county with an eligible armory may receive $30,000 for each armory located within its jurisdiction, for a statewide cost of $810,000. These funds could then be used to reimburse the Military Department for some of the costs associated with the use of the armories, or the funds may be used for a variety of other housing needs. The remaining $250,000 allocation will be distributed through normal EHAP procedures to all of the state's other counties.
Chapter 606, Statutes of 1997 (AB 67, Escutia), requires local governments to reimburse the
Military Department for all of the costs associated with using the armories--including utilities,
building maintenance and repair, administrative costs, and security. In previous years, these costs
were paid by the Military Department using an appropriation from the state's General Fund.
Beginning in 1997-98, the Military Department will be charging local governments $454 per
night to cover these costs. With the $30,000 per armory allocation, local governments will
receive funds to pay the Military Department for 66 nights of armory use. If a government
chooses to use its local armory for more than 66 nights, it would need to pay the Military
Department from another source of funds. Local governments must now also provide uniformed
security from one hour before the shelter opens until one hour after "lights out." Furthermore, the
license that local governments receive for the use of the armories requires the local entity to be
responsible for: (1) complying with state and local health and safety codes, (2) any legal
liabilities, (3) minor emergency repairs, and (4) relocating shelter users in the case of a state
Specifically, in its report on the emergency shelter program, the Military Department maintains that staff time spent addressing the use of the armories as shelters detracts from its ability to prepare for emergency missions. In the case of a flood or earthquake, the presence of homeless individuals in the armory could delay the CNG's response time. In these circumstances, the local government agency supervising the shelter program is responsible for relocating the homeless persons.
It is true that a conflict of priorities can exist as a result of the shelter program. For instance, during the January 1997 floods, the CNG in San Jose was delayed in its deployment for an estimated four to six hours while the homeless were relocated. Yet, the severity of the problem should not be overstated. Only 26 of the state's 111 armories are currently used as shelters and only for the night-time hours of one season each year. The exact number of delays in deployment over the course of the shelter program is not known. Based on the average number of deployments annually, however, we would expect only a handful of conflicts to arise each year.
Advance coordination, communication, and planning between the CNG and the local agency could alleviate many of the problems resulting from state emergencies. For instance, improved procedures for the relocation of the homeless in the event of an emergency would minimize time delays. We would also note that the use of the armories does not interfere with the CNG's regular weekend training schedule. On those nights that the buildings are used for training exercises, they are not made available as homeless shelters.
The law is clear that the local government entity administering the shelter is responsible for the payment of any minor emergency repair costs. Moreover, the inadequacies of the buildings' design have been addressed in some locations. For instance, in Glendale, the city government has funded infrastructure improvements at the armory to improve its use.
While the provision of on-site social services is a desirable goal, the lack of these services at the armories is due more to the temporary nature of the shelter program than to its location. A shelter that operates permanently and year-round would generally be better able to establish these types of social services. This lack of services would likely exist at any site that was used on an emergency basis only.
The department also reported health problems--such as crab louse infestations and outbreaks of tuberculosis and hepatitis--related to sheltering the homeless. Since the client population typically lacks adequate medical attention, these types of health problems are not unexpected. While we are aware of some such health incidents, the severity of the problem is not clear.
Despite local attempts to seek alternatives to the armories, most have failed to secure other shelter sites. It is likely that a number of counties will still have no viable alternative to the use of the armories when the current extension of the armory program expires in 1999. There are a number of reasons for the continued difficulty of local governments developing their own homeless shelters.
By themselves, the allocations would provide only a small portion of a new shelter cost.
Compiling funds from a number of sources can require large amounts of staff time and coordination. Despite these difficulties, some counties have been successful in developing new facilities (see box, page 8).
EXAMPLES OF SUCCESS
Chapter 716 requires that county governments which use the armories submit a report to the state
by June 30, 1998 in order to continue to use the armories during the following winter. The report
must outline the county's progress towards providing alternative emergency shelters. This report
must also include a description of recent activities, planned activities, obstacles, and proposed
solutions to that end. While the preparation of this report will force counties to consider
alternatives to the armories, the statute does not require that specific progress be made in
Given the concerns of the Military Department, however, the Legislature has sought to explore alternative ways to house the homeless during the winter months. In considering options, we have focused on state roles which assist local communities. This is because local governments have traditionally held the primary responsibility for providing emergency shelter for the homeless. For instance, although the state has made the armories available as shelters, the responsibility for administering the shelter program has remained at the local level.
We think that this primary local role is necessary, for several reasons:
Consequently, we believe the main alternatives to the use of armories involve local development of shelters. Toward this end, the state can assist local shelter development by helping local communities address barriers to such development. As discussed earlier, there are several reasons why local entities have had difficulties in establishing new shelters for the homeless. For some of these barriers--such as finding suitable shelter locations--there may be little the state can do. Local governments hold the planning and zoning authority to designate a site within their jurisdictions as appropriate for a homeless shelter. Furthermore, local governments have the greatest ability to address their local residents' concerns about siting a shelter in their communities. For other barriers, there are specific actions the state can take.
Redirect Existing Funds in 1997-98. One million dollars will be directed to local governments for operating expenses this fiscal year. In future years, this level of funding could be continued for capital grants, as opposed to operations. This funding could be established as a matching grant program, whereby local governments would need to contribute an equal level of funding to receive the state's support. The availability of funds for shelter construction or rehabilitation would allow some communities to proceed with permanent shelter plans.
Converting the current level of the state's financial support from operating to capital expenditures might result in the short-term loss of shelter beds. Some local governments might not be able to fund both the development of a permanent shelter and the continuation of paying for emergency beds in the local armory. Therefore, the Legislature might wish to provide temporary augmentations to its shelter funding. An increase in funding in the short-term could maintain the existing number of emergency winter beds while funding the development of permanent shelters.
Establish a Loan Fund. As another option, the state could establish a loan fund for the construction or rehabilitation of homeless shelters. With an initial state investment in the fund, local governments could begin to receive loans for capital expenses. As local governments repaid the fund, other local governments could then draw on the fund for shelter costs.
Use State Surplus Property. The state could make available its surplus property to local governments for conversion into shelters. The State Surplus Property Inventory, compiled by the Department of General Services, provides a listing of parcels, buildings, and other state properties available for sales, transfers, or exchanges. A majority of the surplus properties are vacant plots of land. To create permanent shelters, the state could donate to local governments or lease at a reduced cost its surplus land. The availability of suitable sites would vary across the state. However, if a local government found a desirable property, it would reduce the cost of land acquisition.
As a condition of continuing to use the armories and receiving additional state funding, local governments could be required to file a formal plan with the state outlining the steps in developing an alternative shelter--finding a location; arranging funding for construction, rehabilitation, and operations; addressing community concerns; and coordinating the provision of services. Unlike previous progress reports, the plan could be required to be submitted to the state for review and approval as a precondition of receiving funding.
Similarly, we recommend that the progress reports required by law to be filed by the counties by June 30, 1998 be forwarded to the HCD for its review. The HCD staff could then provide comments to local governments to help in overcoming specific obstacles to developing alternative shelters to the armories.
While the armories have been successful in providing shelter to the homeless, the operator of the armories--the Military Department--has expressed various concerns about the program (such as conflict with other duties, health and security issues, and soldier retention). Our review indicates, however, that none of these concerns appear to be serious, and that steps have been taken to minimize the problems.
The Legislature has viewed the armory program as a temporary one and therefore has sought
alternatives to it. Our review suggests that the most appropriate role for the state is to help
facilitate the local development of new shelters by addressing existing barriers. This could be
accomplished by providing both capital cost assistance (through grants, loans, or in-kind aid),
and technical assistance.
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